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Rekindling democracy’s promise in Europe

Image credit: Sara@Flickr.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this commentary are those of the staff member. This commentary is independent of specific national or political interests. Views expressed do not necessarily represent the institutional position of International IDEA, its Board of Advisers or its Council of Member States.


The region is confronted with great challenges that sometimes make the promise of democracy seem like a mirage that escapes from focus. Over thirty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the rejuvenation felt about the dawn of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe has dissipated to a considerable degree.  

Gradually over time, regimes such as in Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and Serbia have taken actions curtailing civic space, undermining checks and balances, or concentrating power in the hands of a handful few. Populist politicians and aspiring authoritarian leaders are encouraged by the divisive politics within mainstream political parties. Inspired by modern role models, they feel emboldened by blatant attacks on civil liberties by seasoned autocrats such as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or President Vladimir Putin.  

Democracy’s expansion and the accompanying enthusiasm of the 1990s was followed by a more sober assessment of its dividends in the 2000s. By the end of this third decade since the fall of Communism, scepticism has set in and political leaders openly talk about preferences for more illiberal forms of democracy. Political regimes from Poland to Hungary, from the Czech Republic to Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, have made retreats from the liberal notions of democracy by branding them as Western impositions. By doing so, have been stripping democracy of its many constitutive attributes in favour of a more minimalistic version of it built around the act of free and fair elections. 

Nevertheless, this means regimes are using election results as a carte blanche to exert uninhibited power without too many...


To read the full text of this commentary, please visit the website of the quarterly publication: The European.

About the authors

Former staff member - Armend Bekaj
Senior Programme Officer
Former staff member - Martin Brusis
Senior Programme Officer
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